Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Absolutely brilliant!

I've been thinking that I need to take the web pages I encounter (like the one at SEDS) documenting double and multiple stars with a grain of salt.

Not having a formal catalogue of double stars, possibly in trouble with the public library, I am left with searching online.

At the same time, I've had this feeling that this kind of information must be available online from "official" and trustworthy sources.

And after a couple of hours working in the Bright Star Catalog (bsc5p), examining the complete table of 9000+ stars, getting to know the system, the query language, sorting features, means of output, I can say that I am astounded with The High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC) archives at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre!

I used the following criteria:

alt_name != "" AND
dec > -50 AND
vmag <> 10 AND
m_sep > 10 AND
m_sep = 0

so to exclude unnamed and unnumbered stars in a constellation; avoid candidates only visible in the southern hemisphere; include stars viewed, relatively easily, in either a 8" or 6" telescope in fairly dark skies; that are not too close together.

The final m_sep = 0 is to extract a handful of other proximal stars like Mizar.

I selected the following fields for output:

name, alt_name, ra, dec, vmag, ads, fk5, hd, m_cnt, m_mdiff, m_sep, sao, spect_type

  • name = an HR / Yale number
  • alt_name = Alternate Name (usually Bayer and/or Flamsteed), e.g. "79Zet UMa"
  • ra = Right Ascension, J2000
  • dec = Declination, J2000
  • vmag = Photographic Magnitude
  • ads = Aitken Double Star Catalog Designation
  • fk5 = FK5 Star Number
  • hd = Henry Draper Catalog Number
  • m_cnt = Number of Components in Multiple System
  • m_mdiff = Magnitude Difference of Double or the Brightest in Multiple System
  • m_sep = Separation of Components of Double or the Brightest in Multiple System
  • sao = Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Catalog Number
  • spect_type = Spectral Type of Source
I requested an ascending sort by m_sep.

And finally, I told the system to produce Excel compatible results. Which, after a moment, appeared in my OpenOffice Calc spreadsheet program as a 3D worksheet file! Wow!

Oh, dear. Over 700 multiple stars to check out! ;-)

At least now I know that I have an official list. No doubt.

Where I can see this being very useful is the day before a planned observing session. I can conjure some criteria to make a nice short list of a few targets, perhaps just the doubles within one constellation.

Monday, August 28, 2006

on a budget

Found Ed Hitchcock's Budget Astronomer web site! Great stuff. Good advice for people getting into this expensive hobby (I need cheaper hobbies).

I'm gonna build my own solar filter. I learned how inexpensively this can be done from his DIY section.


Ed is a member of the Toronto RASC... He's a local!


His web site moved...

Old: http://budgetastronomer.squarespace.com
New: http://budgetastronomer.ca

Sunday, August 27, 2006

cleaned eyepieces

Carefully following instructions that I found at Cloudy Nights, working gently and slowly, using a bunch of supplies from my camera equipment, I cleaned the 26mm and 18mm eyepieces. I also cleaned the mirror diagonal and one very dusty end of the 2x Barlow.

The 26mm was a mess (from those crazy kids at Mosport)! Now it looks spectacular.

Unfortunately, I resorted to using isopropyl rubbing alcohol with only 70% alcohol. That's all that was in the house. Perhaps I should have waited... An hour or so later, while stocking up at Shoppers Drug Mart, I found a bottle of Life Brand isopropanol with 99%!

Can't wait to use them!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

roll of red

Went to Michael's (The Arts and Crafts Store) on Mavis in Mississauga (sorry about that) to search for red cellophane.

I had already visited several card and gift stores downtown to no avail. I was asking for acetate and film, which are maybe not the best choice of words. I even telephoned a Michael's store in advance (can't remember which one) to see if they had it. I don't think the person on the other end of the phone knew what I was talking about. But they did say they had sheets of clear plastic in rolls used for flower arranging and gift basket wrapping.

After trudging up and down the aisles in the Flower section, I finally asked a staff person for some help. She directed me to the opposite end of the store. And there it was...

Rolls and rolls of transparent, coloured cellophane. Oh. Excuse me. "Clearphane" from Highlander (sic) Supply Corp. in Illinois.

I grabbed a roll of red. The roll is 76cm wide and 7.6m long (or 30 inches x 25 feet). Cost less than $5 (CDN).

Now I can make light tables, treat every flashlight lens, cover the white lights of my car, and still have some left over.

Friday, August 25, 2006

we tried (Toronto)

I was invited over for dinner tonight (Thursday night) with "da boys." I drove over, just in case... Suddenly at 9:30 or so, I realised--hey, it's dark. Let's go!

Ventured into the backyards behind Cam's house and his neighbour's but the yards "face" east. Obviously we couldn't see Jupiter from there.

As I walked between the houses, I spotted it! I ran to the car and grabbed by binos. It was not a star: I was seeing a disk.

I ran into the house and asked Alex if he was interested. He was enthralled with a book. I asked again. He assured me (as best an 8 year old can) he was. I asked if he'd help me: he said, "Sure."

We quickly set up the 'scope (even though I had forgotten the counterweights). But I think I got the best views (I saw two of the moons)...

As Cam, Alex, and Cam's mom filtered outside, clouds were creeping up from the horizon. Jupiter was getting fainter and fainter.

Still, Alex said he could see three moons...

Oh well. We tried.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Voyager 1 blazes trail

I learned that the Voyager 1 probe (launched in 1977) reached a distance of 100 AU from the Sun. Heavens Above has a dynamic map.

View 10° above ecliptic.

Interestingly, Pioneer 10 (launched 5 years earlier) is not far behind.

Our furthest outreach into the Universe.

Only 266700 AUs to go to Proxima Centauri, the closest star!

externalised links and life lists

After a fair amount of noodling, I decided to create my life lists external to this blog.

And while doing that I decided to consolidate and expand on the collection of links I have. This was also driven from the situation where I personally need to have my frequently-used sites accessible in one place.

The final step, of course, will be to hook it into the blogger links area. In the meantime, you can reference my life lists and links directly.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

test of posting via email

Another test.
Sent from email.
It works!

Monday, August 21, 2006

to attend or not to attend

You know, I've been feeling anxious about going to a meet of the Toronto Centre. I've felt like I would be overrun by experienced, sophisticated users.

But the older man last night, with his new 'scope, gives me hope. I'm probably in the middle of the spectrum. I have a lot of experience. The knowledge I've accumulated since youth and high school is considerable.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

last night at Awenda

Down at the dock. Not a cloud in the sky.

It's windy! It produced a bit of 'scope shake (or was that from the kids on the dock). But it also meant no mozzies! Thank the gods! About half-way through the session I removed the dew cap tube to reduce shake. It worked. Fortunately, I did not need it for most of the evening.

(The little digital did good!)

70% humidity.
21°C (although it was in my pocket beforehand).

The dock faces 324° exactly.
naked eye
Bushnell 7x50 binoculars on tripod
Celestron 8-inch SCT on Vixen Super Polaris by star hopping
8:51 - super bright white object slightly east of Lyra heading n-e. Was that ISS?

(Confirmed! http://spaceflight.nasa.gov/ says for Barrie location the ISS would have be visible on Sun, Aug 20 at 08:46 PM local time for 6 minutes reaching a max. elevation angle of 77°, starting from 10° above the SW direction and departing at 10° above the ENE.)

9:05 - another bright satellite heading s-e, passing 10° below Altair. 9:27 - another satellite passing north within ½° of Polaris, coming from Ophiucius.

I need chain or strap for eyeglasses. I had them constantly on and off. I thought this first at Mom's but I guess I did not write it down.

Watched Jupiter through the evening. Soon after sunset, I picked it up through the trees to the left of the dock. Periodically, between the leaves, I'd get a moment of good seeing.

By 10:00pm Jupiter was less than 10° up: the atmospheric distortion is getting quite bad...


Looked at Polaris double star combination: beautiful! I could get used to this. The yellow star looked a lot bigger than the blue one. As I upped the power the yellow and blue became the similar sizes. You know, the bright one is more gold...

Ha ha, was going for κ (kappa) Her but accidentally looked up κ (kappa) Boötes in SkyGuide. Fortunately, it (κ, or iota, Boötes) was a double star! Pale yellow and pink or orange! Very pretty. SEDS describes κ as white-yellowish pair.

δ (delta) Herc: pale green? OK, violet? no, blue white...

Some of the target notes I had made for doubles didn't seem right. Typos or transcription errors on my part? Or bad sources? I need to look into that.

more Messier

Messier 101 (M101), a spiral? easy? ha! very faint...

Messier 97 (M97), the Owl Nebula, very faint, can see light and dark patterns.

Messier 52 (M52) is a pretty but loose OC of blue stars, there's one brighter orangey star, middle top.

There is something between Cas and Per, an open cluster perhaps? Lots of blue stars. [ed. The Double Cluster.]

wrapping up

At 1:00am we hit the dew point... I put the heaters on after some debate. OK. I was done, tired at 1:25.

Ironically, at 1:45, we started getting some light blue and green aurora in the north-west running increasingly through the north. Came and went, ebbing. Sometimes when it faded it went a beautiful deep violet! The north and n-e sky is glowing green.

I acted very selfishly tonight, perhaps. Just after I set up some teens came down to the dock. They knew about satellites and meteors and periodically lay on a bench to stare straight up. I couldn't tell if they were lingering or enjoying the view. But I just did not want to offer them a look, as Jupiter finally cleared the trees. Later a family came down draped in glow sticks. Am I gun shy of kids (with sticky fingers) now?

The security guard that I met the other night returned. He and I chatted again. He had a partner with him this time. He asked if I could show him some stuff. So, off to Jupiter. Then, after a slight delay on my part, Messier 57 (M57). That was awesome actually. It was very clear! I could see variations in the ring. And a brightening in the centre. It improved with the 18mm. And finally we visited the Andromeda galaxy. We couldn't remember if it was 2.3 or 23 million light years away.

While security was there another family came down. The husband started asking me questions! He told me that for a recent anniversary gift he received a telescope, which he described as tiny, compared to mine. Still, I felt compelled to help him. Gave him some tips, answered his question of how to find the Little Dipper, encouraged him to research online, told him about SkyAndTelescope.com.

Friday, August 18, 2006

sunspot on the beach (Awenda)

Took binos and big tripod down to the beach.

Found a big spot, in the early afternoon, near right limb. Small one beside it, toward centre. Slowly moving to the right, as we monitored it, over a couple of hours.

Image from SOHO.


It's interesting. This has been in the back of my brain for a while. The projected image on a piece of paper that I hold a half metre from the binocular eyepieces appears to match the orientation of this photograph which I'm assuming is a "correct" view, i.e. up is up and right is right. That would then mean the bino projected image is being reversed outside the binos and gets reversed. But then, with the binos behind us, it looks correct.

I must confirm this...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

not trying hard enough

I read today in The Backyard Astronomer's Guide (TBAG) that in telescopes with apertures around 8 inches, I could see over 100 globular star clusters, over 700 open star clusters, over 100 emission nebulas, more than 50 reflection nebulas, 100+ dark nebulas, over 500 planetary nebulas, 5 or 6 supernova remnants, and over 4000 galaxies!

Several thousand galaxies are brighter than 13th magnitude.

Obviously, I'm not trying hard enough...

I'm still feeling some frustration remnants from Mom's. I stayed up all night and all I recall is maybe seeing Neptune... Of course, I did more than that! Still, I am feeling frustrated that I cannot seem to find things in the Messier catalog. When I have superior equipment and reasonably dark skies.

Things to do then:
  • keep trying, chin up
  • reduce list of Messier objectives down to one per night, don't do another until you've found the one
  • find more very dark sky sites
  • practice star hopping and right-angle movements to bullseye targets
It is consoling to see others write on their web pages and blogs that they too are experiencing frustration looking for deep sky targets.


I am about to finish reading TBAG. Funny, I received this book a long time ago but I only skimmed it then. It was good to read it thoroughly. It is unabashed in the hazards with visual and photographic astronomy.

It is encouraging to know that the authors Dickinson and Dyer have made mistakes. It makes me want to keep trying but at the same time be more patient.

Monday, August 14, 2006

they don't look up

So I finally arrived at Awenda provincial park, car loaded to the gills, not too far off schedule, happy to be out of the city, although still anxious about all I was leaving behind... As I waited in the registration office for the young staff to print my permits, I spotted a little activities sheet, and immediately remembered my lofty thoughts of running an "astronomy" night up here. My feelings are confirmed, still, after all these years: they do not have any astronomical activities planned. It's a shame really. There is so much that they could do.

With my waning interest in motorsport and waxing urges with astronomy perhaps I should finally and seriously consider this. I'll think about it. Maybe in 2007 I can come up for a week or two and run seminars and nightly viewings and nightly activities. They have a new amphitheatre...

Mike Armstrong is the park super...

Mr. Tulley (?) is the activities coordinator...

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

out of touch with customers

I received an email from Oregon Scientific. Huh! They wanted me to take part in a survey. Wow. This must have been prompted by me completing my product registration.

I was pleased on one hand, intrigued. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to be heard, to discuss my frustrations with contacting them, obtaining technical product information, to relay how poor I think their telephone menu system is...

Turns out the survey was to help them name a product! It's a product name contest! It's not a customer feedback survey. Feh!

Cygnus looks different...

Wow. That was weird. While I was looking up with Will at Mosport, back on 25 July, I noted Cygnus, as it was straight overhead. And I recalled thinking that the spacing of the bright stars in the neck of the swan seemed different than what I thought. Normally, the 6 bright stars are approximately equidistant. But that was the extent to which I thought about it...

Until I read today (at Sky and Telescope's site) about the unusual variances in Chi Cygni!

Wow. I saw it!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

summaries after marathon (Union)

During the marathon astronomy weekend at Mom's with the visiting relatives, I saw, in addition to Neptune in the wee hours and Venus in day light, many meteors and accumulated many to-do items.

Sat 12:58am - from Cygnus to north-west
Sat 3:15am - east to west through Cygnus
Sat 3:43am - a Perseid heading south-west
Sat 3:54am - short one, east to west
Sat 4:02am - bright Perseid falling into the south-east
Sat 4:29am - Taurus to Auriga, exploded! Sat 4:30am - short one falling due south

to dos
It would be good to have star hops planned out more. In particular, when searching for elusive planets. Literally, I think it might be good to make a road map. Maybe even a circular eyepiece series...

I did not prepare a light table. I had Mom's card table and I had Donna's light box. But I never used them. That said, it might have been frustrating with Donna's setup given the tall, small stature of the box. And I did not have red cel or red paper at the ready. But I really think I need to have something like this, which I can leave on continuously, under key charts.

Get a local copy of the SEDS Messier catalog onto the laptop.

Put mole skin and bandaids on packing list for astronomy. For some weird reason, I developed a blister on one toe from my sandals (even though I've been wearing them since May!).

Put sweaters (already there), pants (added zip and ski), toques (already there), long underwear, blankets (already there), on packing list for astronomy. I got chilled in the damp early morning hours.

Make an updated prep checklist for an observing session.

Have some Jolt cola or caffeinated beverage on hand for the all-nighter. Added to packing list.

Once again, I feel I need to confirm eyepiece orientations. What I was seeing in the eyepiece of the binos, finder scope, and cat was not exactly what I was expecting.

How do you heat binos? There are 4 elements! Need to research this...

Make an arch for bino clamp. Current design makes eyepieces too far apart.

I could have really used a height-adjustable stool (it's already on my wish list). In the future at Mom's, simply have a lot of different chairs and stools (and boxes) handy.

I should keep an easily-accessed pen on my person at all times. I can use one of my extra lanyards. It's already on packing list. Since put one in gear.

I thought of a great gift idea for David...

If intending to track Venus or Mercury into daylight, remember to, in darkness, perfectly polar align the 'scope. Consider marking Mom's deck for a quick realignment of her 'scope.

Pay attention to dew point more in future.

Consider a small sticker near eyepieces of telescopes which shows the view, either inverted or mirrored... A reminder to me; an FYI to other users.

Monday, August 07, 2006

light table (or box) ideas

Got inspired (again) while reading The Backyard Astronomer's Guide when they mentioned a light table for backlighting star charts. An accompanying photograph showed a custom job that fit the Tirion Sky Atlas "Field Edition" sheets. I thought: I can build one of those! Quickly sketched a design, with little compartments for eyepieces, pens, etc., and noted some "requirements."

But then I considered how practically I might do this over the holiday weekend. Let's K.I.S.S. (keep it simple...)

I had already considered asking Mom if she still had a collapsible card table. Yep. Check.

And when I remembered my sister, an accomplished photographer, had a light box for examining slides, I asked her to bring it over.

I did not look at it until Monday morning. And immediately realised it would not have worked. Donna's slide viewer light box is quite... boxy. At approx. 30cm x 20cm x 20cm, it is bulky. The glass plate is too small for the Tirion sheets; they'd hang over the edge.

As I examined my sister's slide light box, Mom piped up and said that she had her own! Huh? It too was custom-designed but this time around a 40cm long fluorescent light bulb. This made for a wider and thinner box. It was much more like what I was expecting... Mom loaned it to test drive. So perhaps I'll use in around home during another backyard session. Or up at Awenda? I need to find some large sheets of red cellophane first though.

I'm still interested in building my own unit but that perhaps will run off a 12 volt supply and use red LEDs. Initially I had grand plans to build an entire table! While a custom table would be fun to have, with little pockets and drawers, it might be too grandiose, too complex, too heavy. If I can plop down a simple card table, then I just need a “standard” light box. Still, already, I see room for improvements: a handle on the side for easy transporting; a “firm” cover to protect the glass top; a double-pane glass top to hold the sheet down and reduce dew penetration.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

eyepiece presentation issues

I think I found an error in the The Backyard Astronomer's Guide (TBAG) book with respect to view orientation on p.58...

The spotting scope (a small refractor, right?) on my cat presents an inverted view. I.e. it is upside-down. Or rotated. Up is down and left is right. Or to put it yet another way, south is up. I verified this in the day with a terrestrial target, my Mountain Equipment Co-op Pingo tent.

Drawing of view of my tent logo through eyepiece of finder and newt.

Mom's newt reflector presents the same view through the eyepiece... It's upside-down or rotated. So, when trying to find things by star chart, I simply need to turn the chart upside-down. Or view from the other side of the table.

When I through through the cat telescope, with the standard mirror diagonal or star diagonal of course, I see a laterally-inverted or mirror-reverse view. I'd have to hold a mirror to the charts or look at the backside of them brightly backlit.

Drawing of view of my tent logo through eyepiece of cat with mirror diag; this also assumes I'm looking "down" into the eyepiece from above the 'scope, so to get a "reference" to the real horizon.

OK. The book says, "Inverted images [are] seen in Newtonians." Later, "[But] mirror-reversed views [are] produced by refractors and catadioptric telescopes."

I find this especially ironic when they're at the same time addressing the surprise and frustration people experience regarding this.

The Sep/Oct issue of nightsky magazine, on p.83, offers the following: binos offer a correct, upright view. Interestingly, they also show a refractor with a 45° diagonal here. A compound telescope (they show a cat) or a refractor, both with a 90°, presents a mirrored view. And finally the finder scope or a reflector (or as noted in their text, a "straight-through" refractor) creates an upside-down view.


Perhaps it is not an error. But  the remark that a refractor produces a laterally-inverted or mirror-reversed assumes that a mirror diagonal is being used. That's common. It's standard equipment on a SCT or MCT. Still, I think it should be stated for clarity.

the morning after (Union)

At 9:03am, the humidity finally started dropping.

temp: 24°C
humidity: 70%

I just remembered the dew point number in weather prediction. That must be the critical temperature where the air gets supersaturated... Must pay attention to that more in future.


Looked for sunspots in the day time. Couldn't see any... Nothing Friday around supper. Nothing today at 8:51am. Mildly disappointing.


David shows hints of extensive knowledge of astronomy... Is he a closet astronomer? That gives me a great gift idea... But I'm not telling!

I thought Miranda would be more interested in the skies above. But she's a jaded, bored tweener clearly entangled in boyfriends, shopping, emoticons, and hormones.


Headed into town around 11am or so, running errands, and bought a (second) shower cap for Mom's telescope. Dave was with me at the drug store. He later admitted shuffling away so to not be seen with me!

Mom had at some point purchased a shower cap. I thought I had told her we needed two... Anyway, the newt tube is now better insulated.

As we chatted about it, Mom intimated she is going to make tight fitting caps. I'll have to discuss with her the design she's considering: we need to be mindful of the nuts at the mirror end and the eyepiece holder, accessory mount, and Telrad mount at the open end. I also need to learn what material she's planning on using. I suppose fabric is OK: the key purpose is to reduce dust and debris into the tube. But to cut down moisture, we should use something non-porous.


A low battery indicator lit up on the Oregon Scientific eb313hg portable weather station on Friday. Got the unit mid-March? So its lasted 4.5 months. OK, I played with the backlight unnecessarily at the beginning. And I think the alarm got triggered by accident a couple of times. Still... That's somewhat quick.

I bought two new lithium 2032s from The Source. They offered me a battery replacement warranty special thingee (I usually don't go for these). It was cheap: an additional $1.50 per battery. This means I can replace each 2032 twice within the next three years! Sweet deal. Little do they know how the weather station eats batteries...


I reviewed my old blog notes to verify that I gave Mom solar eclipse glasses made of Mylar in Dec 2000. Still, we looked in the kitchen drawers, in the telescope folder in garage, and in the Telrad box. No sign.


I reviewed my notes and skimmed my books for data on photography.

I found my old notes for exposure times for star trails. Assuming wide angle and 400 film, I could use f5.6 for 1 hour or f8 or more for 3 hours.

For wide-field planet shots, I could use the 100mm at f2.8 for 4 to 20 seconds using 400ASA. Wow. I haven't used my “portrait” lens very much. It would be good to get it into service.

But I couldn't find any data, at the time, for exposure times for shooting Jupiter through the telescope. Which was probably a good thing...


I thought of a potentially good analogue to describe galaxy: a Ferris wheel.


I finally had a snooze (in my tent) I was so tired...

missing plate

I rediscovered, while attempting to use the setting circles to track down galaxies, that the pointer/gauge plaque for the Dec axis had come unglued from the GEM.

I don't remember now where the piece is, if I have it or if I've lost it. If I can't find the little plate, I could mark directly on the mount perhaps.

That said, The Backyard Astronomer's Guide (TBAG) says that this was a common problem. And using setting circles is rather challenging anyway...

So maybe I won't worry about fixing it.

It still bugs me.

Could this be why I'm not finding some objects, when using the setting circles?

tracked Venus into daylight (Union)

It was 6:07am and Venus is well up.

I tried to find Mercury. It was to be ahead of Venus, rising at 4:15am. But I couldn't see it. Either I was tired (I did snooze) or I was losing it in the trees... Frustrating. I thought I was looking in the right area. Is it that tough?

temp: 11°C
humidity: 98%

I put Mom's newt on Venus and fired up the motor. It kept drifting out of view because I had forgotten to properly align the mount while it was dark! Duh! I finally lost track of Venus at 7:37am.

Aunt PJ, the early-riser, was the first to join me. She briefly looked at Venus. So I have a witness. By the time the girls were up, it was too late! Mom missed it too.

Still, I was impressed. The sky was very bright and I could not see the planet with the naked eye and I had a difficult time relocating it with binoculars.

Must try this again!

found the 8th planet (Union)


Tonight, or should I say, early this morning, I (think I) finally saw Neptune. (My notes show 7:00am beside my sketch but that can't be right. I was probably around 2 or 3am.)

I was confident I was in the correct location. Although I struggled with the inverted , flipped view of the finder scope.

I moved straight down (in the field of view) from Iota Cap.

A dark blue faint disc. With a couple of bright points nearby. Can one see the moons of Neptune with a "small" telescope?!

temp: 13°C
pressure: steady
humidity: 98%

I guess the thing to do is monitor it over a couple of weeks...

the all-nighter (Union)

A little after midnight (part-way through my all-nighter), I moved the cat 'scope to the driveway in front of the garage so to look at the sky around Ursa Minor and Major. When the kids across the road weren't tripping their security light, I looked for galaxies. No luck. I returned to Mizar with the ortho 18mm, noting the colours, and sketched it.

At 12:31am I watched, through the eyepiece, a satellite pass very close to Mizar.

seeing: very good, 8
transparency: could see, with averted vision, 5.0 mag. stars in Ursa Minor
temp: 20°C
pressure: steady
humidity: 70%
wind: nil

I hung out in the driveway for a couple of hours. At 2:30am, the Milky Way was very good.


It's been on my list of things to do to get to know more constellations. It then occurred to me to first document ones that I am very familiar with. Here goes:

Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Orion, Andromeda (and the Great Square), Delphinus, Lyra, Cygnus, Boötes, and the Water Jar of Aquarius.

I'm getting comfortable with Aquila, Capricornus, Scorpius, Hercules, and Perseus.

I practiced Taurus and Auriga tonight.

While looking north, I surveyed the northern sky. I'm much more comfortable with Draco now, as it weaves between the bears, coiling around Minor.


A very bright satellite moved from Lyra, past the north tip of Cygnus, to the south-east. Wow! Was it the ISS?

I should also have an up-to-date listing of ISS passings in the future... (I've since added this to my "prep" list.)

Also, I did not record the time of this sighting! Duh. Must be better about that in the future... But assuming 1:00am or 2:00am then it was generally from the north-west to the east. Altitude would be almost 90°. Based on data at http://heavens-above.com/ it doesn't look like it was the ISS.


Tried chasing some interesting sites within Cassiopeia. What is the blob to the left?


Wow, there are lots of bats out.


Discouraged, depressed, frustrated, tired, I never even tried for Ceres.

The RedShift software shows asteroids. Might be fun to track some. See daily changes.


So then I started working my list of Messier objects (with my cat 'scope). The Moon had set at 1:30am and it was 5 hours until sunrise. I tried for:
  • galaxy Messier 81 (M81) in Ursa Major: couldn't find it
  • galaxy Messier 101 (M101) in Ursa Major: couldn't find it
  • globular cluster Messier 56 (M56) in Lyra: couldn't find it
  • open cluster Messier 52 (M52) in Cassiopeia: couldn't see it
  • and finally Messier 103 (M103): couldn't see it
I don't get it. Did not Messier see these objects at 100x? Are skies too light polluted? Am I'm missing them by a degree or two?

I had another 15 on my listed but I just quit.


Incredible dew. Everything was soaked. Dripping. So this is 98% humidity.

That I only have dew heaters for one 'scope became a new limitation. I couldn't—like I had envisioned—switch between the cat and newt. In fact, the cat finder scope and newt Telrad became unusable. Do you have to heat the secondary in a newt as well?! If so, how? Also the eyepieces and doubler were dewing up when not in service. I started keeping the 26mm or 18mm, whichever I wasn't using, in my pants hip pocket to keep warm. That worked...

Oh, to have a heated observatory!

I was concerned for the laptop and my palmtop, electrically, and all the moisture. How will I keep them dry in the future? I can stuff the palmtop into a ziploc. But the big machine?

I believe this is what also dissuaded me from doing some star trails photos. If I had set up the camera for a long exposure, I would have had to release the dew heaters to the lens.

There's gotta be a better way... A heated deck? A large heated pad? Fans?


I got a little chilled. From the damp and the dropping temperature. I didn't think to bring warmer clothes. Lesson learned. If doing very late or early morning astronomy in the summer, packing for cool to cold weather.

Friday, August 04, 2006

then there were 3; no, 4! (Union)

We kicked off the evening watching Jupiter's moons. With the cat 'scope continuously trained on the planet, we watched the moons move. At first there were only 3 visible. Ganymede was hidden in the glare of the planet (it began crossing in front of it at 7:50pm). But, right on schedule, at 9:42pm, it emerged from the limb of the planet, ever so slowly detaching itself, like a blob of water or mercury, a black sliver expanding finally between the two.

This was Jovian first for me.

It was a lot of fun having the laptop right there running RedShift live. The kids, Miranda and Rachel, really enjoyed that. They updated the screen for me. I think David, PJ, and Mom enjoyed the appearance of the moon too. Donna had to leave early unfortunately.

(Moon size increased 5x normal.)

At first, I was looking for Ganymede "in-line" with the other planets. I kept looking in the wrong spot for it...

I was however mildly frustrated that I couldn't see Ganymede itself in front of Jupiter. Is it the one that looks most like Jupiter? Is it the toughest to see without a filter? I also could not see its shadow on the planet. Contrast issues? Again, should I have a filter to enhance that?

We continued watching Jupiter up to 11:04pm.

humidity: 93%
temp: 18°C
pressure: steady
wind: nil
seeing: not bad, very few waves on Jupiter!

It was shaping up to be a great night!

Before everyone trundled off to bed, I turned to some double stars. Mom enjoyed Mizar and Alcor. We noted the yellow versus blue/white colouring.

ancient training materials

When Donna arrived she presented to me an ancient planisphere from the University of Western Ontario! Probably made before they used the word "planisphere;" it's titled The New-Way Star Map.

On the back is a chart of stars surrounding Polaris (circumpolar stars).

Came with an envelope noting prominent points in the sky and instructions. The enclosed descriptions make it sound like it is a relatively new device, a rotating wheel, for viewing the stars no matter the date or time.

She also gave me a small booklet called An Easy Pocket Star Guide For Beginners compiled by H.R. Kingston. The forward suggests these items were used in astronomy courses at UWO.

It is from 1947 with planet positions noted up to 1959! I love the hand-drawn star charts (by McKready).

These are museum pieces...

the big day

I arrived at Mom's Friday mid-day and in short order started preparing. My detailed astronomy plan called for readying telescopes and related equipment and accessories for a Friday evening-to-sunrise all-nighter observing session! Woo hoo! Weather permitting, of course. And the weather was looking stunning.

Among other things, I had to yet to review my double-star charts and notes for photographic exposure times (for trails and planets).

After astronomy prep, I'd have time to set up for other day-time activities, including observing sun spots, pitching my tent in the backyard, and getting beer. So frantic car unpacking began.


I asked Mom for her Mylar solar glasses but she couldn't remember where they were. In fact, she could not even remember what they looked like. Has she lost or misplaced them?

Did I keep them? Have I gotten my wires crossed: did I not get them for her? Did I give them instead to Lisa or Grace?


I remembered to test the batteries in my Pentax Spotmatic film camera bodies. It's been a while since I've used these cameras. Ironically, I think the film in them has some astronomical shots...


Late Friday afternoon I suddenly remembered my sister had a light box for viewing slides so I asked if she could bring it over when she was planning on dropping by for dinner. My intention was to test drive the light box with the loose sheets of the Tirion SkyAtlas Field Edition and to get ideas for one of my own design. But I never got around to actually unpacking it... Oops.

More on this later...


I prepared fairly well for the big event.
  • Recon'ed locations. I decided against the front yard or driveway for tracking Mercury and Venus. It would be too bright with the road lights (and cars). The desk would be the hub of operations. And I could shoot the trails photo from the backyard with Mom's house in the background.
  • Turned off all of Mom's external and security lights including the driveway/garage light, the cellar door light, and the street light in the front yard.
  • Had both telescopes (newtonian reflector and schmidt-cassegrain catadioptric) setup and ready to go.
  • AC power to newt clock drive. AC power to the laptop computer.
  • Red flashlights at the ready.
  • Tripods ready. Binos mounted on the big set.
  • Dew heater system ready to go. Portable batteries (mine and a loaner) ready to go.
  • Charts, notes, objective sheets, palmtop ready on the patio table.
  • Noted sunrise and sunset times: 6:20am and 8:40pm.
  • Noted "other" activities: when our visitors from Michigan were arriving and departing, Friday and Sunday; and when the local big Disc Golf tournee was, which kept my sis (registrar) and bro-in-law (part organiser and player) very busy.
In fact, it looked like a local club was having a star party!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

mail-to-blog not working?

Before heading down to Mom's, in the middle of rural Ontario, still using dial-up, via her blue iMac, with a version of Mozilla I cannot upgrade further under OS 9, I reconsidered how I might update my blog. I surfed into blogger.com and started rummaging around the help. My vague recollections of using FTP proved unfounded (actually, I had misread it earlier). But I did learn about using email. Which sounded quite cool. And made perfect sense. This feature lets people blog from the palmtop, wireless, perhaps during a vacation, nightly in a big walkabout, or from one's bicycle. Who knows!

I tried it. And got, immediately, a mildly cryptic email response: the entry cannot be posted at this time. Upon investigation, it looks like a number of people have found this to not be working in the last little while. Good: it's not me. Bad: I will have to post my blog entries later (or via the laptop). Worse: a key feature, it seems, of blogger.com is not working. No one from blogger.com is talking about it. Suggesting it is a big problem. Or they've shut it down.

serious planning

In preparation for the visit to Mom's over the long Civic holiday weekend, I did some major planning. My objectives were initiated by an email I sent to Cindy and Terry:
Cindy et al.

I'm ramping up for another fun-filled astronomy weekend! RELAX, RELAX, I'm not showing up at your house again... Sheesh. Not unless I want to donate more pints to the Ajax Small Mobile Blood Bank! I'm heading westward this time, to my Mom's. You may recall she lives near the other lake, Erie, south of London.

I have the following items on my to-do list:

  • find Ceres asteroid (while it is in opposition)
  • find Neptune
  • retest "star drift" timings of my and my Mom's 4 eyepieces
  • attempt my first long-duration tracked photograph of Jupiter and its big moons (using Mom's telescope and its clock drive), assuming the Moon will cooperate
  • get up early and locate Mercury before sunrise
  • track Mercury and Venus (again with Mom's telescope) into daylight hours
  • find some colourful double stars
  • memorise a few more new constellations
  • track down some more galaxies!
  • and maybe even build myself a light table (red light of course)
Clear skies!
I prepared my palmtop, the laptop, consolidated files between them. In fact, I was getting a little worried I've been moving too much data onto the laptop. This is a loaner machine so I mustn't get too dependent on it. I considered carefully files and data that is better kept on the more portable palmtop. Still, I saved a local copy of the Belmont Society's colour double-star chart to the laptop.

All the while I resisted printing. I knew I could keep the laptop near to me for sessions at Mom's, powered indefinitely, while working from her backyard deck. With her huge extension cords, I knew I could even move to the middle of the backyard or to the front yard. Or even the top of the garage roof! While correlating facts and figures on various web sites and in my RedShift software (I had never displayed asteroids before), I fired up Microsoft Project to help me get a better sense of timing issues! Excessive? Perhaps.

Say what you will, it helped me! I gained a much stronger sense of the best times to view Neptune and Ceres, when to attempt star trails and constellation photos, when to avoid the gibbous Moon. I set primary times and “rain dates.”

It was at this point that I decided to pull an all-nighter: Jupiter was up in the early evening; I could try for Neptune and Ceres in late night (after the Moon had set); then, before dawn, I would snag Mercury and Venus; and finally I would track Venus, with Mom's motorised 'scope, into the day time. An ambitious plan at the very least. Why I added twenty Messier objects to chase, I cannot--looking back--quite fathom!

Finally, I revised my log sheets.


As I edited my log sheets, I added a scale to show the Moon phase. For a moment I considered drawing the needed symbols but I remembered seeing (somewhere) a crescent in some of the Windows symbolic fonts. After a futile search, it occurred to me to look on the net.

Whereupon I stumbled across a complete “library” of Moon phase symbols, in white and black, from Curtis Clark's personal web page. Updated URL for this "old" font.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

more victims

Barbara emailed me this morning. She too received the Mars message. Believing it to be true, she asked me to bring out my telescope on the designated date. Once again, I explained to her that it was a hoax (although I'm happy to bring out the 'scope). She forwarded the message she was referring to. So I finally get to see the missive (funny that I haven't received it directly).
The Red Planet is about to be spectacular!

This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the Last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again.

The encounter will culminate on August 27th when Mars comes to within 34,649,589 miles of Earth and will be (next to the moon) the brightest object in the night sky. It will attain a magnitude of -2.9 and will appear 25.11 arc seconds wide. At a modest 75-power magnification

Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye.

Mars will be easy to spot. At the beginning of August it will rise in the east at 10 p.m. and reach its azimuth at about 3 a.m.

By the end of August when the two planets are closest, Mars will rise at nightfall and reach its highest point in the sky at 12:30 a.m. That's pretty convenient to see something that no human being has seen in recorded history. So, mark your calendar at the beginning of August to see Mars grow progressively brighter and brighter throughout the month.

Share this with your children and grandchildren.

All right. Let's dissect this crap.
  1. This message is from the past! It is in reference to the "great apparition" of Mars in 2003. On 27 Aug 2003, Mars passed the close to Earth, the closest in a long time. I don't know about the recorded history part of it... Sounds fishy.
  2. This "recycled" message is giving the impression that Earth and Mars are getting close now, Aug 2006. Wrong. We're almost as far away as we can get at 385 000 000 kilometres (or 239 000 000 miles). In fact, Mars will move into conjunction (on the far side of the Sun from us) in October this year. We don't start moving toward Mars until November. Then it will take another year or so for us to be relatively close to Mars, where it is at opposition, on the same side of the Sun as us. So, it's the Dec 2007-Jan 2008 calendars you need to mark...
  3. Because Mars's orbit is quite elliptical (compared to ours which is more circular), it means that, at times, Mars and Earth are positioned very close physically to one another. Technically, this is orbital eccentricity: Earth is 0.017; Mars is 0.093. I believe you can calculate the proximal rendezvous simply by multiplying the orbital periods of the two planets. We're 365 days (of course) and Mars takes about twice as long at 680 days. I.e. about every 680 or so years! So, it's true that this was once-in-a-lifetime event. And if you didn't see it in 2003, you're going to have to wait until Oct 2667! I don't know where they get the 5000 and 60000 years from...
  4. That we travel around the Sun about twice as fast as Mars means there's some good news. Approximately every 2 years, Earth passes Mars. Some years we're closer together. Other years we're farther apart. There will be many opportunities before 2667 when we'll be almost as close as 2003.
  5. Jupiter's affect on Mars's orbit is negligible. Kepler calculated the motion of the planets quite accurately which Newton expanded on. Modern scientists today can very accurately predict the position and orbits of planets. And this is essentially common knowledge. Even basic astronomical software on personal computes and palmtops can calculate planets positions with a high degree of accuracy. If there was guesswork involved, we wouldn't be successfully launching probes into the solar system, using the gravity wells of Jupiter and Saturn to slingshot to more distant planets. We successfully drop probes onto other planets. Hello! Now, if they're talking about small distortions affecting Mars distance on the order of hundreds or thousands of kilometres, OK, that's possible. But... but... that will make little or no difference to us on Earth.
  6. The arc second calculations are, remarkably, mathematically, correct. For Aug 2003. But they are a tad too... detailed. Most people don't know what arc seconds means. That's like when they quote the air pressure in kilopascals; forecasters would be better off saying high and falling or low and rising. So, your pinky finger is about 1° wide, or 60 arc minutes wide, when held at arm's length. And that's 360 arc seconds!
  7. It is curious that there is a multiple line break before the line "Mars will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye." Ambiguous. Cindy treated this as a standalone sentence...
  8. The Mars rise times, again for 2003, are almost correct. It is true that around 3:00am, Mars reached its highest elevation in the sky, at the beginning of the month. The time is an hour early for the end of the month. But the gross error is that elevation is altitude not azimuth.
So, the bad news is, if you missed this (poorly written) email in the summer of 2003, you're going to have to wait over 600 years for an identical situation. If you're receiving this message now, you can delete it.

To see what you missed, review the 2003 Mars apparition notes. To see what's going on now and what will happen at the next interesting rendezvous, see the 2005 and 2007 notes.

OK. Now I'm tired. This "old" Mars email is filled big "cool" numbers, unusual terms (improperly used), and exaggerations. That it is resurfacing now is clearly an attempt to blindside people, to create a hullabaloo. And in that respect, I don't get it. Is the purpose of some spam email just to be forwarded, propagate like a wildfire, be instilled in other computers like memes? And to provoke elaborate, desperate responses (like mine)?!

I hope Cindy, Terry, Peter H, Peter C, Barbara, Malcolm, and maybe a few others will be better informed now and in the future.

Finally, I urge you all to halt this spam Mars email. Tell people "upstream" from you, the people who sent you the message, that it is spam or old. And strongly encourage them to tell their senders. And so on.